Friday, November 16, 2007

No uncertain terms. All uncertain terms.

Clive Thompson - Why Science Will Triumph Only When Theory Becomes Law

"Turns out, the real culture war in science isn't about science at all it's about language. And to fight this war, we need to change the way we talk about scientific knowledge ... It's time to realize that we're simply never going to school enough of the public in the precise scientific meaning of particular words. We're never going to fully communicate what's beautiful and noble about scientific caution and rigor. Public discourse is inevitably political, so we need to talk about science in a way that wins the political battle in no uncertain terms."

In this short article, Thompson talks about how the deliberately nuanced and tentative language of science is exploited by creationists and others who take advantage of the vernacular sense of theory, as in "Oh, so that's just your theory, not a fact!" Although he seems to have little faith in the public, he recognises connections between language and power, and in the process touches on important critiques of hyper-relativist social constructionism, as well as much older questions about truth, including the possibility of codifying it. I've heard it explained that people become desperate for certainty in times of uncertainty. And as much as I disagree with creationists, I can't help but think Thompson's plan would come back to seriously bite us on the ass.

Update 16.11.07 - In the comments Nick left a link to a Guardian story about Steve Fuller, who I think is a super interesting sociologist. Check out his take on ID, and the explicit attention given to authority and power.

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